The Lego Movie | Review | Film

The Lego MovieLego (never Legos…) was a big part of my childhood – as it turned out, this continued when I went to work for Legoland Windsor – but however hard I tried I was never good with following the instructions. One man who is great at following instructions though, is Emmet, star of The Lego Movie.

In many ways, the fact that this story is about and told in the medium of Lego, is irrelevant (you could have swapped them out for any creative toy you could imagine) as like all good films, it has characters that you care about.

Emmet isn’t special, something which the film continues to remind us within an inch of our lives, but he is likeable as a protagonist for our story. In a nutshell, the Lego city Emmet lives in is run on instructions and, as you can imagine, the result is a society which works very efficiently. Construction is uniform, everyone likes everyone, likes what they hear, likes what they watch – and it is incredibly dull.

Enter the Rebellion…ahem, I mean the Master Builders. These alternative thinkers literally remake the world for their own ends, seeing the world as a collection of bricks which can be rearranged into anything they can imagine.

Emmet does not have such powers, which cues an immediate familiarity with our hero for others who struggles trying to dig out that blue six-er from the bottom of the toy box that you really needed to complete this model of an X-wing.

Released right around half term in the UK, there’s no doubt that this film is primarily aimed at children, but really it can’t help but appeal to the child inside every would-be Master Builder (I know, I know, vomit away).

The Lego MovieBrushing all of that aside though, there is a good film left standing proudly in its own right. The jokes work pretty well, despite one plot point slightly relying on the fact that people are aware that Krazy Glue is a brand of superglue. Luckily the plot holds together (again…sorry) without this nugget of information and leads Emmet on an exciting adventure complete with more cameos than you could reasonably expect from any other film.

The voice cast is talented, particularly the A-listers hiding away in supporting roles. Morgan Freeman brings a surprising amount of humour and attitude to a role which could be a very typical mentor-type affair.

Batman, everyone’s favourite minifigure, is gifted with the most fun writing, playing off his recent incarnations on screen in a way which would be impossible to do in any other way than in Lego form. Will Ferrell is just as good as you might expect, but the gold really should go to Liam Neeson for his portrayal of Good Cop/Bad Cop. I was waiting for a Taken reference to pop up, but alas.

Emmet himself (Chris Pratt) is particularly well balanced, and never seems phoney or superficial as a character, something key to making the slightly bizarre storyline work.

The mishmash of other characters actually steer away from the stereotypes for the most part, offering a bit more oddness and character than they needed, and the film is all the better for it. A particular highlight is the slightly deranged Unikitty, ruler of Cloud Cuckoo Land – yup, seriously.

The Lego MovieIs this a film worth seeing then? Yes, but if you hate Lego it isn’t going to win you ever, if it ever could. Disregarding the interlocking brick system entirely the film performs more than adequately for a kids film and takes a solid step into serious film territory.

In all an experience perfect to enjoy for what it is. It might not change your life, but it can be that little reminder to take things a little less seriously that everyone needs from time to time.

Rating: 4/5

James Michael Parry

Google Nexus 5 | Review | Technology

Google Nexus 5Mobile phones are a fleeting concept. After only a decade and a half, or so, they may have risen to be the most often carried device on the planet – even above a simple wrist watch – but their reign is wrought with dangers.

The rise of tablets (and even phablets) puts the humble mobile’s position under serious threat. To survive then, the cutting edge of smartphones must offer things you can’t do on any other device, or at least not as easily, and a lot more besides.

Enter the Nexus 5, Google’s third foray into the world of phones (admittedly through the proxy of LG, who make the device). With a five-inch screen and genuinely rectangular features, it’s not the most original nor compact of devices, vying for a share of an arena which is already overpopulated.

The Nexus 5 is, in fact, the fifth phone in its family – far from a certainty with Apple churning out two per year and all – and the design of the phones may not have moved miles in looks, but the technology LG have packed into the 5 is a force to be reckoned with.

Have a break…

Google Nexus 5The phone comes pre-loaded with the vanilla version of Android 4.4 Kitkat, a slick, clean interface which works very smoothly. The defaulting of the Hangouts App for SMS is slightly limiting, since any contacts without Google+ don’t integrate particularly easily.

Fortunately one of the biggest benefits of Android is that there are so many excellent quality third-party apps out there and Contact+ fills the void quickly, easily and cleanly, leaving no cause for concern.

Certain features such as lock screen widgets and other customisations are quite hidden away inside the options menu, but with some searching, tweaking and some choice downloads the experience crosses its ‘t’s and dots its ‘i’s effortlessly.

Please connect your charger

Google Nexus 5Battery life is the failing of countless modern devices, with bigger, higher definition screens draining them faster than ever. The Nexus 5 has a few features which it is worth sacrificing some battery for, such as Google Now, which offers up to the minute updates for whatever you search for and wherever you go.

Integration with all of the Google Apps is stronger in this model than any other Android device I have personally used, including Samsung’s Nexus 10 (though in really in every other respect both devices are excellently matched). Equally the apps themselves perform very well, especially the Nexus’ iteration of Google Chrome, which delivers the internet more quickly and easily than a handheld device should be able to muster.

In all then a device which isn’t the greatest phone ever, the camera is still a tad slow even after an update and a few ideas miss their mark. Most importantly though, this phone does what it was designed to – to showcase the potential of what Android can offer, which is an operating system more complete, versatile and featured than iOS7.

James Michael Parry

Titanfall Beta first impressions: Should you buy Titanfall? | Hands-on | Gaming

TitanfallYou might think that it’s all getting a bit robot-mad around here at present, but in my defence this is one of the most anticipated games of the year, particularly on Xbox One (though, of course, it’s worth pointing out you can play it on 360 and PC as well).

The Titanfall Beta began on Friday 14 February. So, “What’s it like?!” I hear you ask. In a nutshell this game takes the first-person shooter genre and adds another level to it, in this case the one I’m talking about isn’t the massive robots – although they do change up the gameplay considerably – but playing vertically.

Making your way around maps designed to allow pilots to take advantage of going up and down as well as side to side makes the experience incredibly refreshing. Plenty of other games have done this before, no doubt, but here the execution is excellent, lumbering titan-like strides ahead of even seasoned franchises with killer multiplayer like Halo.

Being a Beta, there is only some much which can be taken away, and as such my reactions are still held in check a little with the anticipation of the full whack we are due on March 11. That said, even with limited modes (just a standard deathmatch, king of the hill/conquest and Titan v Titan) the gameplay takes first place.

Graphical fidelity will be less than the full version of the game too, but still the game looks solid. It’s missing a few water effects which players may have become used to and other touches, which may be included at retail, but the animation is strong and not juddery considering the amount going on on screen.

TitanfallA lot of blabbing has been done over both resolution and also the number of players per side. Firstly, the frame rate, which I personally think is more significant to gameplay, does well despite the game being online-only and secondly, the number of players feels right for the size of the maps so far, particularly when all the titans are in play.

The feeling of being in control of a titan is so powerful at times that you quickly forget how vulnerable you are as a colossal, reasonably slow-moving target. Maneuverability feels quite familiar, in that the titan is an extension of its pilot – we aren’t talking Pacific Rim scale after all, the titans are the size of a two-story building.

Dodging and sprinting make a big difference, though it takes a while to adjust the bulk and avoid getting stuck on lampposts and other debris. It almost seems a shame that this game isn’t one of the umpteen titles being developed on Frostbite 3, as destructive environments would really push this title to the next level.

Of course, it would quickly become increasingly difficult for pilots, so perhaps that’s why developers Respawn decided to not go down that road.

The two maps available in the beta give a hint of the excitement to come, reportedly these only scratch the surface, as you would hope, and the loadouts system seems promising. The default loadouts alone give enough variety to keep the gameplay interesting, particularly since you select titan and pilot weapons, equipment and abilities separately.

One area which will be uncovered in the full version is how the narrative is woven into the game, since it is multiplayer only, but even without that set-up, the Beta is well served by its comprehensive but not overly-long tutorial training.

In all Titanfall will definitely be a game that all Xbox One owners should want at the very least, not because it’s the first exclusive which PS4 owners will really start to feel some jealousy over (and then buy on PC), but because it’s a game which begins to flex the muscles of the system and bring fresh ideas to the table.

James Michael Parry

Robocop (2014) | Review | Film

RoboCop (2014)The return of RoboCop was something noone asked for. The 1987 original is a piece of cinema history, as elegant as only storytelling from the 80s can be. So why watch this remake?

The short answer is if you want to a watch a film which, judged on its own merits is passable, but when compared to its older brother fails to live up to its name in almost every way.

The story begins, as before, in a futuristic Detroit – although the 80s version of the future, as usual, is cooler than what we’ve ended up with. This time the scale is more focused on the global threat of terrorism and the loss of American lives, lovingly set up by Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson).

There’s no doubt that the film is aware of the irony in its Robocop_2014_posterdepiction of both Pat and the gun-loving Yanks he represents in using a one-dimensional view of the world to see a robot army crawling over Tehran as ‘freedom’.

The origins of RoboCop as the monotone-voiced cyborg we know and love have changed. Not only is Alex Murphy not shot to pieces, but RoboCop himself has no amnesia to tangle with, just a spot of drug therapy – which conveniently fixes itself when the plot requires it.

Lead Joel Kinnaman (known only from TV series The Killing) does a remarkably uninspiring job of bringing Murphy to life. It’s the nature of a reboot to compare to the original, but Kinnaman plays things far to safe to offer any stand-out moments whatsoever, and as a result you feel as if it could have easily been a completely separate film and it might have even be better off.

Some of the changes seem petty as well, such as Murphy being transformed by ‘OmniCorp’, now a subsidiary of ‘Omni Consumer Products’, rather than OCP itself, which means there’s no board of directors to tangle with, just Batman…I mean Michael Keaton.

The iconic ED-209 robot is also tragically sidelined, wheeled (or tiptoed?) out for only a couple of key scenes and there was no chance for them to offer their customary warning whatsoever.

Film should move forward, rather than look back. The best remakes undeniably build on what has gone before in the franchise rather than re-treading old ground.

With this release, no new ideas are brought to the table. Murphy’s relationship with his son is held up as an overly significant plot point, but it has no pay off, and his wife’s distress while touching at first quickly grows into a distraction.

Murphy's relationship with his family takes centre stage...when it suits the plot.
Murphy’s relationship with his family takes centre stage…when it suits the plot.

Not enough time is spend with the film’s main villain, Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow), and instead the audience warms to secondary antagonist Rick Mattox (Jackie Earle Haley), who is unfortunately sidelined before he gets a decent throwdown with RoboCop.

The suit design inexplicably offers a single human hand, not even its relevant arm, as if to make some sort of statement about the importance of contact and humanity, but instead comes off looking oddly asymmetrical and you are frequently left wondering why.

In fact that thought is something of a theme for the film altogether – just why? Everything about the film is forgettable and uninspired. The acting talent of the supporting cast, including Keaton and Oscar-nominee Gary Oldman, struggles to shine amid a script which offers no relief from the inevitability of a film made for profit rather than love.

If you are about 12 years old, then there is genuinely some excitement to be had here (not to the standards of a stronger Doctor Who two-parter, but hey), and the action is decent enough when it happens, though the shaky cam is enough to give you a bit of a headache if you watch too hard.

In all RoboCop is a film which fails to re-capture audiences imaginations, as if someone tried to play Heath Ledger’s Joker with none of the audacity and ended up with a paler, tamer, and far less bloody version of the film we know and love.

Rating: 2/5

James Michael Parry

If you fancy an alternative, check out indie title Our RoboCop Remake instead.

Five must-see Netflix shows you should watch right now | Feature | Entertainment

NetflixStreaming is now more popular than ever and, regardless of your device, Netflix is the king as far as streaming TV goes. Don’t go thinking we’re on the payroll, no doubt there are better equipped services out there for films in particular (Lovefilm springs to mind), but that aside, with Netflix branching into original content and signing a deal with Marvel and even Dreamworks for brand new content, the future is rosy.

Now then, is a good time to get on the bus, so with that in mind allow us to present five shows you should get under your belt right away:

The Thick of It

The Thick Of ItWith Peter Capaldi about to step into the shoes of the most famous role in television (love it or hate it, you know it is), the time is now to get to know the actor. Capaldi’s turn as spin doctor Malcom Tucker is a masterclass in intimidation.

As British TV shows go, The Thick of It is one you could have missed back in 2005. A political fly-on-the-wall style show along the lines of Yes, Minister but injected with 2000’s satire and plenty of venom.

Simple ideas well-executed are often the best and in this case as the show changes it manages it without losing its flair.  The rest of the cast are good fun, particularly a pre-Mock The Week Chris Addison.

Castle

CastleWe all love Nathan Fillion, or we should, and Richard Castle is a role which he wears like a glove. The detective genre is nothing new, but the way Castle is executed makes it a class above – the humour it particular is perfectly balanced on the chemistry between the two leads.

A compelling mix of action, drama and comedy, Castle follows the escapades of crime writer Richard Castle and Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) as they solve real life crimes together.

The supporting cast are equally well-rounded, and bring life to what might otherwise be a fairly procedural drama. The overall story arc as the series continues ramps up, though unfortunately the best is yet to make its way onto Netflix itself. That said the first two seasons are a very strong start.

House of Cards

House Of CardsLittle more can be said than the excitement expressed in our recent Ten most anticipated titles of 2014, but don’t forget Netflix is the only place you can find the show – unless you pick up the DVD of course.

Just in case you missed it, the short version is that House of Cards is a political drama like no other. Completely unlike The Thick of It in almost every way – apart from quality – the show follows senator Frank Underwood on his rise to power, as he struggles to the top regardless of the consequences or what he has to do to make it.

With the entire series dropping at once on February 14th, you could even squeeze in a re-watch if you’ve already seen it to get you in the mood.

Spooks

SpooksThe coming of Spooks and its studio Kudos marked a landmark in British TV in that it was the first time you know the name of a production company by style and quality alone, and it’s even on the BBC.

Following the goings-on of Military Intelligence 5 (that’d be MI5 then…), Spooks is a high production value show which puts characters at the centre of its stories. It created a name for itself when it killed off one of the regular cast early in the first series – from here it flew in continued to change things up, refusing to let itself go stale over a run that lasts a decade.

In fact, it is one of the most re-assuringly long UK shows in recent years, and acted as a springboard for others such as Life on Mars and Kudos’ own Hustle. Most satisfying of all, watching the show in full is a journey through the technological and cultural changes of a post-9/11 Britain.

Black Books

Black BooksBritish comedy is an institution, and in many ways you either get it or you don’t. There is a wealth of it sitting on 4oD alone, and Black Books is one of the strongest examples of a show which is small, but perfectly formed.

More focused than the madness and reference-filled journey that is Spaced, Black Books is a simple sitcom starring Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey and Tamsin Grieg. The characters gel together well and reflect the personalities of their actors, and at just three seasons the show stays just long enough to avoid overstaying its welcome.

A particular highlight is an episode in which Bernard Black (Moran) and Manny (Bailey) write a children’s story, with typically hilarious results. There’s also plenty of familiar guest stars cropping up now again to boot.

***

Of course there’s more than enough to keep you going from now until the end of time, so what are you waiting for? Head to netflix.com to find out more, at only £5.99 a month it’s one of the best options on the market, but don’t take my word for it – give a free trial a go.

Top shows to add to your watch later list, or to plan in some time to get into, are: Breaking Bad, Firefly, Archer, Hustle and Star Trek: The Next Generation

James Michael Parry